An exhibition by Heritage Malta about the Phoenician shipwreck located off Xlendi is now open at the National Museum of Archaeology, enabling visitors to experience the work behind the first-ever excavation by scientific divers beyond 100 metres.
The exhibition, previously held at the Citadel in Gozo and at the National Aquarium, focuses on the innovative techniques used to scientifically excavate a deep-water site, while showcasing artefacts recovered from the wreck. Some of the objects on display were unknown in Malta’s archaeological record. Audio-visual presentations help transport visitors to the seabed outside Xlendi Bay.
Evidence of a deep-water shipwreck was detected in 2007 during an offshore remote sensing survey conducted on the fringes of Xlendi Bay in Gozo. This anomaly turned out to be the remains of a Phoenician cargo vessel dating back to the 7th century BC, a rare and hugely significant find. At 110m below sea level, the wreck is an extremely challenging dive, and it wasn’t until 2018 that the first underwater excavation by divers took place.
In 2020, a significant number of objects were recovered from the wreck, including complete amphorae, ceramic fragments, smaller whole jugs and urns, some of which are rare and unique in the Maltese archaeological record. The excavation of the site, organised and directed by the Department of Classics and Archaeology at the University of Malta, continued in 2020, revealing wooden fragments from the lower levels of the wreck. A rare and exciting discovery was that of a mortise and tenon joint, an ancient shipbuilding technique used to assemble the hull of ships. The excavation also exposed parts of six timber planks in situ, providing important information on hull construction and shipbuilding techniques in an archaic Mediterranean context.
2021 saw the last season of excavation on the Phoenician Shipwreck Project. A rare and exciting discovery was that of a human tooth – the first human remains to be discovered on the site. This lower, right, first molar will be sent for further tests, including carbon dating and DNA analysis.
Speaking during a visit to the exhibition by Owen Bonnici, Minister for National Heritage, the Arts and Local Government, Noel Zammit, Heritage Malta’s Chief Executive Officer, remarked that the raising of public awareness, both locally and internationally, on the archaeological significance of the Phoenician shipwreck is an important aim of this project, given that this shipwreck is one of only seven other contemporary sites that have been identified. He added that Heritage Malta currently manages 15 underwater sites, consolidating Malta’s position on the map for international divers. The national agency for cultural heritage will sustain its support to the Phoenician shipwreck project and other ventures, as it is through such collaborations that our national heritage is enriched and made accessible for both study and enjoyment.
The exhibition ‘Exploring the Phoenician Shipwreck off Xlendi, Gozo’ runs until 29th May. Admission is included in the normal ticket prices for admission to the National Museum of Archaeology.
The Phoenician Shipwreck Project was supported by the Ministry for Gozo, the Malta Tourism Authority, Malta International Airport, the Honor Frost Foundation and Heritage Malta.